The problem with the history of twentieth-century Europe is that everyone thinks they know it. The great stories of the century - the two world wars, the rise and fall of Nazism and communism, female emancipation - seem self-evidently important. But behind the grand narratives, the politics and the ideologies, lies another history: the history of forces that shaped the lives of individual Europeans.
That is the thrust of Richard Vinen's magisterial survey of this uniquely destructive and creative century. It argues that there is no single history that encompasses the experience of all Europeans, but rather a multiplicity of different, partially interlocking, histories. Some of these histories are told here in a book which seeks to root the generalisations of large-scale analysis in the concrete - and sometimes incongruous - details of individual lives. Challenging, informing and revealing, this is history writing at its finest.